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September 24, 2011Maybe Deon Long should have ran for Homecoming King? He would have been crowned just based on his first-half performance.
The University of New Mexico freshman wide receiver ran the opening kick off back for a touchdown, laying the foundation for a school record 378 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns against the Sam Houston State Bearkats Saturday night at University Stadium.
But it was Bearkats sophomore running back Tim Flanders who would have stolen his crown when his fifth touchdown gave visiting Sam Houston State a 48-45 overtime win.
"It was unacceptable to lose that game; unacceptable," UNM head coach Mike Locksley said, "unacceptable to our fans, it's unacceptable to all our supporters and we have to look really deep within ourselves."
The Bearkats, ranked 20th in the latest Football Championship Series, improved to 3-0 on the season. The Lobos are 0-4 as questions about Locksley's future at UNM continue to grow. UNM concludes this current three-game homestand with in-state rival New Mexico State at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Long finished his day with 209 receiving yards, 165 return yards and two yards on a rush attempt. It is the best individual performance in NCAA football so far this season and set a Mountain West Conference record.
"I was thinking that I needed to score, because this team needed this," said Long. I'm just going to try to lay it all on the line every play and get us some points."
It was the Bearkats who got some points, taking a 14-7 lead, but UNM quarterback Tarean Austin found Long on touchdown strikes of 25 and 54 yards, the second of which tied the game at 21 right before intermission.
"Deon Long is a superb player, he is a competitor," Locksley said. "We need to continue to find guys like that on the defensive side, special teams and up front. It's going to take efforts like that to get this thing turned around."
Austin's magic appeared to have vanished in the third quarter as halftime adjustments by the Bearkats limited his productivity. With the Lobos trailing 28-21 late in the third quarter, Locksley pulled Austin for back-up B.R. Holbrook in an effort to spark the offense. In the span of just over one quarter and in overtime, the UNM junior threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns and sparked up the conversation about a switch at starting quarterback.
"I don't want to make a decision while I'm emotional right now," Locksley said. "I think B.R. played well, he kept us in the game. I thought we've showed a little more resiliency this season. We fought back from being down, and obviously B.R. was the guy who was out there, but that's not a decision I am prepared to make right now."
While Long continued to find looks on the deep routes, Holbrook worked the ball inside more to Ty Kirk, who had five catches for 79 yards in the fourth quarter. The UNM junior finished with 115 yards.
"It felt really good, I thought our offensive line played lights out tonight," Holbrook said. "The receivers made plays and there isn't much more you can ask for that."
Flanders not only set a school record for touchdowns, but he set a personal record with 198 rushing yards. He had scoring runs of 61, 2, 53 and the 4-yard game winner. He was also charged with a touchdown after landing on a fumble from quarterback Brian Bell, which fell into the end zone.
"It went pretty good," said Flanders. "I knew coming out of halftime that I left some plays out there, but we all had a good game. There are some things that I still need to work on, but overall as an offense, we did well."
The Lobos tied the game at 42 with 27 seconds left on Long's final touchdown of the night. In overtime, UNM needed 11 plays to travel 21 yards to the 4-yard line, ending with a 21-yard James Aho field goal.
The Bearkats needed four plays on its possession to score a touchdown, ending the game with Flanders' 4-yard run to the left side, for the 48-45 win.
It was the sixth time in the past seven Homecoming games that UNM lost, and was a real setback in the Lobos' chances of reaching their goal of six wins this season.
"As a team we felt confident, but as it turns out we couldn't get it done" said defensive back Bubba Forest. "We needed this win to turn the season around for our team."